I was reminded recently of all the earthy-crunchy, we-are-parents-hear-us-roar mantras that swirl around raising children these days when I read a story about a woman whose sister-in-law refused to lie to her children about the existence of such a being as the jolly old elf, Santa Claus.
"How can I expect my children to trust and believe in me if I tell them lies about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy?" she wondered with a tone that implied superior parenting prowess.
The worst part was that as the sister-in-law's children grew up, their mother's distain for lies made it imperative for them to tell their younger, Santa-believing cousins the "truth."
I could only imagine the dread of attending family gatherings after it becomes clear there's always someone waiting in the wings to rain on the parade. It's almost as though kindness must take a back seat to honesty at every turn, and "I'm just telling you the truth" are the magic words that erase the onus of responsibility for hurt feelings.
I have to be honest. I never gave too much thought about whether or not we'd tell Ittybit about Santa.
A benevolent grandfatherly gentleman, who, against the forces of nature and with the help of eight tiny reindeer, each year somehow manages to circle the globe on a single day delivering presents to children everywhere ... chimney or not ... milk and cookies or not. What’s not to love?
My mother told me once that she remembered seeing Santa Claus from the top of her staircase one night when she was a child. She told me how magical it felt to know, really KNOW, that Santa was real. Back then I thought she was probably the luckiest kid in the world to have seen the great and powerful Claus.
I never SAW the "real" Santa for myself. I knew that the men in the 70's era pictures with me and my sister perched on their laps were all stand-ins. The "real" Santa was much too busy at the North Pole getting ready for his big night to be sitting in a fir hut at the mall. But I believed.
I don't remember when I learned the truth about Santa. I think that must be because I never really felt Santa’s lack of DNA veracity was in fact proof a lie had been told.
At the age I found out that the portly man in a red suit I had previously known as Santa -- a guy with snow-white mustache and beard, not to mention that iconic twinkle in his eye -- didn't actually come into the house via the chimney to bring me and my sister toys was also the day I learned about metaphors.
It was the day I learned that the truth was colored with many different shades of gray not to mention all the colors of the rainbow.
Far be it from me to tell people how to raise their kids; For some Santa only means revenue for retail and they’re just not that interested.
But to call Santa a lie, and lobby against the retelling of his lore, seems to me lacking imagination. Perhaps what this world needs are more benevolent lies rather than fewer. Maybe we need more held tongues and gazes of kindness than glares of derision. We need to realize that sometimes our realities aren't always shared, and that one's lies are another's truths.
The truth isn't some inalienable object, it's not even static. But when we boil it all down into one or the other -- the truth or a lie -- we might as well throw away fiction and fantasy and dreams.
Why bother with metaphor at all? It's a tricky business and some people just never get it. Imagination, what's it good for anyway?
No, I'll always believe in Santa Claus -- the spirit if not the man.
And for those of you out there who believe, too: I wish you a Merry Christmas.